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Honor Fallen Officers With Memorial

By Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Standing outside in the breezeway of St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters is a statue dedicated to the memory of the fallen — fallen police dogs, that is.

To remember the fallen officers, one must head across the breezeway to the main entrance. Inside hangs a solemn plaque inscribed with the names of the 15 police officers killed in the line of duty. Three new names will be honored today: Thomas J. Baitinger, David S. Crawford and Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz.

That disparity — a simple plaque for the officers, a statue for their canine partners — will not stand for much longer. Plans are under way to erect a proper monument honoring all of the St. Petersburg officers killed in the line of duty.

“A plaque is not worthy of the sacrifice,” said Mayor Bill Foster. “We can and certainly will do better.”

Those efforts were spurred by the recent deaths of the three officers — the city’s first police casualties in 30 years. But while everyone is determined to honor them, not all agree on how to do it.

So far the only concrete plan comes from the nonprofit Heroes of the St. Pete Police Inc. It’s revived dormant plans to raise $150,000 for a memorial in Demens Landing, a waterfront park that juts into the bay between the Pier and Albert Whitted Airport.

The city donated land to the group for a memorial years ago. But while the organization has raised money to help police families, fundraising for the monument fell by the wayside, said state Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, who sits on the board.

That changed when the city lost three officers in 28 days earlier this year. In response, the group recently added board members and started approaching donors. So far, it’s raised $35,000.

“We need to get this memorial built,” Kriseman said. “It’s beyond time to do it.”

The group will work with the public arts commission to solicit bids from artists and help pick the winner. It envisions building a memorial with a sitting area along the water.

“It would be a peaceful, contemplative area,” Kriseman said.

The need for a monument is especially poignant today, as the three recently slain officers are added to the roster of fallen officers honored each year at memorial ceremonies held by the city and county.

The Heroes of the St. Pete Police concept is akin to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office memorial: a monument with the names of the county’s 23 fallen officers surrounded by a garden.

But some in St. Petersburg would like to see a memorial built at police headquarters, such as the tall slab of black granite outside the Tampa Police Department. There are 31 names etched on the monument and a blue LED light was recently added.

Because St. Petersburg is planning to build a new police headquarters, Heroes of the St. Pete Police treasurer Jim Newman said the group may also raise money for a memorial there, too.

But the new facility hasn’t been designed or paid for and could take a decade to build, which is why some would like to see a memorial built much sooner at the current headquarters.

St. Petersburg Detective Mark Marland, president of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, said several union members have approached him about doing just that.

But the union would prefer not to take an official role in the St. Petersburg memorial, he said. For now, the union will let the Heroes of the St. Pete Police take the lead.

“I’d really like to see what their game plan is before I would want to jump in and spearhead anything,” Marland said.

The mayor’s preference would be for everyone to concentrate on building a single memorial that can be moved to the new headquarters. Foster said he’d rather not divide resources by building two monuments or rush to erect one at the old building, which will likely be slated for demolition in the coming years.

“Should you really have two?” the mayor said. “I think that in reverence to those who have made the sacrifice you should really have one, and that it be worthy of their sacrifice.”

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